If you want to write, if you love to write, if writing is central to your well-being, at some point you need to have a serious think about needs vs. wants.
I’ve talked about this before, but just in case anyone is still unclear, writers don’t make a lot of money. OK, most writers don’t make a lot of money. I’m going to talk more about my big picture thinking on this in Part Two next week, but for now, I’m going to share with you my list of needs vs. wants.
(Oh, and by the way, I’m stipulating to oxygen, food, sleep, etc. – definite needs).
- my family
- time to spend with my family as a family.
- time to read
- time to write (note sometimes I need to write more than I need to read and sometimes vice versa)
- time to run (I guess this means running shoes are on the needs list too!)
(are you noticing a bit of a theme here? Time, time, time. Never enough of it…)
- a place to live where I feel at home
- a (paper) notebook and (good) pen
- my laptop
- clothes that keep me either warm or cool, depending on the season, and that are comfortable
- my bike (this is borderline. I technically don’t actually need it but, since we only have one car, it sure makes my life easier).
- forms of exercise other than running, e.g. riding and skiing. I love doing these things and they enrich me but if I had to choose just one thing I would stick with running, hence these are wants
- my current house in my current neighbourhood. I’m lucky in that I already have this want but, realistically, we are very lucky and could certainly survive (and thrive) in a smaller house in a less expensive neighbourhood
- the ability to buy a new laptop, a new bike, etc. I don’t actually want these things now because I am very attached to my 20-year-old mountain bike and my seven(?)-year-0ld laptop but I like knowing I can replace them if I need to
- extra clothes chosen for colour, prettiness, etc. beyond those needed for basic comfort
- one take-out dinner each week from our favourite Greek place, also a lunch out every couple of weeks
- the continued ability to spend a huge chunk of our summer at the cottage
I’m sure there are more in each category and some kind of blur the lines – I think there’s kind of a “needy want” category and maybe that’s where my riding and my bike fit in.
Interestingly, most of the things on my “needs” list are free. Money-wise anyway. They may take a lot of time and effort but they don’t cost much. It’s the “wants” stuff that costs more in my particular situation.
How about you? What are your needs and wants lists? What do they look like? Don’t fudge or put things where you think they “should” go. Be realistic. What do you really need to be happy? I’ll talk about why I think this is an important exercise in next week’s post…Filed under From Tudor, Inspiration, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives, The Writer's Path, Writing as Career | Comments Off
“I’ve decided to become a novelist.”
Cue several mental reactions from me.
(1) “Yes, and I’ve decided to perform an appendectomy.”
(2) “Oh, that was my mistake – I didn’t ‘decide’ to become a novelist.”
(3) “Shut up. No, really SHUT UP.”
Followed by actual reaction which is produce a forced smile and stay very, very quiet until I have counted to 10.
You’d be surprised how often people say something along these lines. Or maybe not. Maybe you’ve heard it too. Maybe you too have sought some sort of relevant education and / or training and have put in long hours at your keyboard / notebook trialing and erroring. Maybe you have sought out other writers’ advice and have read endless books in your genre. Maybe you’ve ripped apart your manuscript and re-written all 60,000 words of it, then ripped it apart again. Maybe you’ve researched the market, learned about query letters and bios and cover letters and partials and fulls and the synopsis; don’t forget the dreaded synopsis. Maybe you’ve jumped through seventeen hoops to meet all the submission guidelines of each and every possible agent and / or editor – “Page numbers in the top left hand”, “Page numbers in the top right hand”, “Indent all paragraphs”, “Don’t indent paragraphs”, “Write a 250-word synopsis”, “Write a 15-page single-spaced synopsis”, “Compile a target market evaluation of the genre you’re writing for and assess how your work will fit into it using comparisons to three other books currently on the market” (yes, I did that one). Maybe you’ve spent hundreds (maybe thousands but I don’t want to think about it) of dollars on ink cartridges and paper and envelopes and manuscript boxes and postage – don’t forget postage – to submit your work all over the great, wide, English-speaking world.
Maybe you’ve done all that, and you still aren’t published, and somebody has walked up to you and said they’re unfulfilled with their career and it’s not all that and they need a change and “I’ve decided to become a novelist.”
And, if all that is true, you’ll know how I feel when I hear it.
So, please don’t say it. Just please, not that. You can try “I’ve decided to work on my writing,” and you can even try “Do you have any suggestions?” To which I will smile – genuinely this time – and say, “Yes, start writing. Put pen to paper. Then come back and talk to me after your first 10,000 words.”Filed under From Tudor, On Life, The Publishing Industry, The Writer's Path, Uncategorized, Writing as Career | Comments Off
Fresh off last night’s Game Seven, I was inspired to ask this question.
Because no matter what you thought of the series and the game and the stuff that happened after the game (and, oh my goodness, I have some strong thoughts about that, many of which start with “what would your mother think of you now?”) there was some pretty transfixing TV viewing to be had last night.
I’m talking about the moments just after the game when the Bruins – the huge, hairy, sweaty and probably very smelly Bruins – were floating on air. Skating on clouds. Shaking hands and smiling and laughing and hugging. Lifting up the Cup and kissing it (and I kept wincing and thinking “ooh, don’t drop it!” because that’s what I’d do if I had to carry something that heavy while wearing skates).
It was a moment. You could see it. You could feel it. It wasn’t staged – you couldn’t stage something like that. It was the culmination of all their professional hopes and dreams and their hours and years of effort. It was IT.
I loved seeing that.
I, personally, have no desire to ever win the Stanley Cup – which is a very good thing. I also have no desire to summit Everest. Or to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I don’t want to win a major award – I’m not saying I wouldn’t enjoy winning some type of award but it’s not a goal of mine.
No, what I want is to nail a publishing contract. I want to know my book is going to be published. All the stuff after would be great too; the first time I got to see the book. The first few sales of the book. The first time I saw another person reading my book. Those would be nice but what I really want – that moment I’m really after – is just signing the contract.
That’s my Stanley Cup. What’s yours?Filed under From Tudor, Inspiration, On Life, Writing as Career | Comments Off
Sadly, I am here to tell you there is no such thing. Not in the writing world, anyway. There is not even such thing as a reasonable-amount-of-money-for-the-actual-amount-of-work-you-put-in. No, I’m afraid the closest you’re going to get is to receive a not-insulting-sum-of-money-that-is-fair-given-market-conditions-and-that-gets-paid-to-you-on-time. That, my friend, in the freelance writing world, is pure gold. That’s also why your parents wanted you to go to med school or law school – or pretty much anything but j-school…
Speaking of j-school - I graduated in 1996 and freelancers were getting paid more then than they are now. So did I pick a winner or what?
This little lesson on writing and money comes courtesy of one of the spam comments the blog received this past week (spam central we were, around here). Here’s the comment:
We need internet writers desperately. After checking out your website, we want you on our staff. We pay out $35-$50 hourly. Our top writers are pulling in over $90K a YEAR, writing part-time. Please stop by and see us.
I am here to tell you this is hogwash! Pure, 100 per cent, complete and utter hogwash (I would use a stronger animal reference here but I’m making an effort to clean up my language). This statement is simply not true.
There are lots of sites like this out there telling you they need you, and you can make lots of money in your spare time, and you just have to register with them (oh, and pay a small fee) and the work will roll in, pour in, deluge in and you’ll be able to pick and choose your assignments and then lean back in your chair and eat pitted cherries all day while you peck out your stories and the cheques also roll, pour and deluge in.
Really? You really think this is going to happen? I’m not asking if you wish this would happen or if it seems only fair and right that this would happen but I’m asking if, deep in the recesses of your heart and mind you believe this to be true. If the answer is still yes then I’m here to tell you you’re wrong.
I could go into lots of details and give you all the good reasons and logic as to why things that seem too good to be true really are and also remind you there is no such thing as a free lunch (unless your mother makes it for you and then you still have to listen to a diatribe on your good-for-nothing cousin and the mistakes he’s making with his good-for-nothing life and, pretty soon, you wish you had just paid $5.99 for the deli special). Anyway, I could do all that but one of my most favourite bloggers of all times – the wise and mysterious INTERN – has already done a fantastic and funny job of it here so I invite you to read it for yourself.
Of course, in the interests of maintaining a fair-minded and egalitarian blog, I definitely invite you to write in if you can prove me wrong. If you really have pulled in over $90K a year, writing part-time, by all means let me know and I will happily bathe in hogwash.Filed under Contests, Markets & Events, From Tudor, On Life, The Publishing Industry, The Writer's Path, Writing as Career | Comments Off
I’ve had some turmoil lately about getting paid by one of the companies I contract for. It’s annoying not to get paid when you’re owed money, full stop. However, there are some things that can really amp up the annoyance factor, for example:
The companies I contract for require clients to pay up front before any service is rendered. Therefore, the company gets paid in full (approximately three times what I will eventually be able to invoice) and then the client gets assigned to me, and then I go back and forth with the client for what could sometimes be weeks and then, say this process ends mid-month, I won’t even invoice for two more weeks and then I give them 30 days to pay. So, even when I get paid on time, I am still getting paid a couple of months after the company has been paid. When I don’t get paid on time…well, you can imagine my bitterness.
To add insult to injury, there have been times when I’ve been told I’ll have to wait a couple of days to be paid until a new client pays a large invoice which leaves me thinking “what did you do with the money my clients already paid to use my services?” and also, that if I managed our household finances that way we’d be teetering on the edge of financial ruin.
So, that’s annoying to start with.
Then there’s just the general annoyance of being always forced to provide excellent customer service and be nicey-nicey and super-accommodating and do what the client wants and do it fast but then I have to go out and beg for my money? Hmm…
There are some ways I’ve found of dealing with the whole collecting-your-money thing as a freelancer and I’m sharing them with you today in case you can use them too.
1) Keep track of your work! Keep track of your invoices! If you don’t nobody will. Make sure you invoice for every single client and make sure you get paid for every single invoice. No company (or, ok, no company I’m personally aware of) is going to voluntarily tell you you missed invoicing for such-and-such a piece of work so you’ve got to do it.
2) Set limits you can live with. This is especially important if you think the company finances are wobbly. For example, I used to invoice a certain company every month but a combination of my invoices getting larger and their payments getting sporadic made me switch to invoicing every time I hit $500.00. This way I get an alert when my first $500.00 invoice goes overdue instead of having a much larger, monthly invoice be the one that potentially goes unpaid.
3) Be persistent. You do have to follow up. Also be clear. At first you can do a “just checking in” thing and reattach the invoice “in case you’ve lost it!” - all polite and cheery. Then you should set a date. “I need to receive payment by this date, please advise on your plans to do so.” My final move and one I’ve just had to pull out of my back pocket is “I’ll be unable to accept new clients, or to continue work with existing clients until my outstanding invoice(s) is / are paid.”
This one is powerful as it threatens the company’s reputation. How will a client react if I politely tell them I have to wait to continue assisting them until my invoice is paid? It’s a tough thing to do but it’s perfectly fair – I have to wait until you get paid? OK, you need to wait until I get paid too. Now the company has a real interest in paying you. I really don’t recommend – however tempting it might be – to keep doing more and more work in the hopes of keeping the company happy or making them like you. My personal opinion is that’s not what’s going to get you paid. You have to make sure you leave yourself some leverage and you have to know when to use it.
I am writing this on the Thursday before Easter weekend (yes, sometimes I get organized and schedule well in advance) and I’ve been promised I’ll be paid tomorrow (really? Good Friday?). However, wait and see.
The thing that I don’t get though, is that having pulled the “no more work until I get paid” card, the company is pretty much acting like nothing’s happened. To be honest, I don’t use that tactic until I’m at a point where I figure I’m ready to sever ties with the company; to me it seems like a hard place to step back from. But they’re all “OK, we’ll pay you and then we’ll start sending you clients again.”
Really? You want to? Even with the threats and all? My problem now is to figure out whether I want that as well…having come to the brink with them do I feel like continuing on?
Oh well, it’s not Friday yet. I may not get paid tomorrow and, if I don’t, my decision is made for me. I’m into the world of registered letters and small claims court and I won’t really have time to take on any of their new clients!Filed under From Tudor, Organizing our Writing Lives, Tips and Tricks, Uncategorized, Writing as Career | Comments (2)
I love love loved two of today’s columns in the National Post newspaper. (That’s probably an example of ‘girl’ writing.)
Barbara Kay and Jonathan Kay were each asked to respond to an International Women’s Media Foundation in Washington survey lamenting that the number of women who write opinion pieces is far lower than the number of males who do so.
Both Barbara, a gifted opinion writer herself, and Jonathan, one of the National Post’s other op-ed regulars, wrote convincing reasons as to why this might be so. And it doesn’t have anything to do with patriarchal conspiracies.
It boils down to choice, that thing that we have a lot of these days. And there are sound reasons why many women may not choose to immerse themselves in the thrust-and-parry world of hard-hitting op-ed writing.
Of course, many women break the mold to smithereens, but it doesn’t mean that the mold doesn’t exist. Check out Barbara’s views here, and Jonathan’s here. (I have to say his description of a ‘columnist personality’ fits one or two males I know to a T!)
Vive la difference, I say. What say you?Filed under From Peggy, In the News, The Publishing Industry, Writing as Career | Comments Off
I’ve decided this year is all about contests for me. My goal is to enter one per month and, if I can, more (I’ve entered four so far since the beginning of the year). Should anyone choose to follow me in this plan, you need to get your hands on the Canadian Writers’ Contest Calendar – it’ s magic!
So, I had all kinds of reasons why I was going to do this and I’m going to explore some more deep and meaningful ones in future weeks but, for now, let me tell you about an unexpected updside I’m experiencing.
The joy of submitting.
Oh I love submitting my work. I really, really do. I know some people don’t enjoy this phase but I think that’s ’cause they skip right by the enjoyable part and go straight to the place of ”I might get rejected“. True, yes, very true. In fact, “might” is the wrong word; the right word is “will”.
When submitting, because I know I will get rejected, the only thing to do is keep submitting. You see, every submission is a slice of hope, a piece of promise, a possibility. And the latest one is always the strongest so, as long as I keep submitting, the sting of being rejected on my older and less shiny and less exciting submissions is considerably dulled. “It doesn’t matter,” I think, “Because I just popped a new envelope in the mail yesterday! Ha-ha!”
One of the things I do to make money (unlike all the above-mentioned submissions which, in the fiction realm, have yet to earn me ANY money), is to write these things called BCRs. A BCR is a Biographical Career Report, usually running about 50 pages once complete, in which I analyze a client and try to figure out what makes them tick, what motivates them, what keeps them working.
Something that comes up quite often is the notion of goals. Not surprisingly, many of us human beings are goal-oriented. So I often end up telling my clients they do well with goals but what happens if, for example, they are an engineer working on a mega-project which has a five or ten-year timeline? Well, I often recommend they take on a side project or find something else in their life which allows them to set and achieve smaller, quicker goals to keep them satisfied as they go.
Is anyone with me yet? Has anyone jumped ahead to realize if I’m working on a novel and I like goals, maybe I need some sort of side project to keep me satisfied? Yes, good for you. Well, submitting to contests fills that need for me. I think “good for me, I finished something” and then I can go back and pick up from the 37,629th word of my current manuscript.
There’s also one more thing I really like about submitting and you’ll either be with me on this or think I’m nuts – I love the details. Adore the guidelines. All the little nit-picky things required for each magazine or publisher or contest really rock my boat. Which font to use. Which size. What size the margins should be. Is the page number on the bottom right or top centre? What needs to be on the story and what isn’t allowed to be. What information absolutely must appear on the cover page? Where and how and when is the story to be submitted?
I love getting each and every detail right. I often cut and paste the instructions into my document and then delete them, sentence by sentence as I fulfill them. “Double spaced with first line indent?” Done. “12 point Times New Roman?” Check. So satisfying.
Am I a perfectionist? Well, maybe in this one way – when it comes to the details. But as to the rest of it, no; I don’t think I am. I’m much more about “good enough” than “perfect” (you just have to read some of my favourite quotes to know that). Besides, I know if I don’t settle for good enough, I’ll never get to perfect and then I won’t be able to send my submission and we all know how I love doing that…Filed under Contests, Markets & Events, From Tudor, Inspiration, Organizing our Writing Lives, The Writer's Path, Uncategorized, Writing as Career | Comment (1)
This is the time of year in which many of us make grand resolutions, forgetting (yet again) that some of us (and by that, I mean me) don’t have personalities that lend themselves to discipline and structure.
I am almost certain to fizzle out on my solemn promissory declarations by Week Two; by Week Four I am not even feeling guilty about it, because I have forgotten the earnest resolutions all together.
All the same, into every life must fall times of self-examination; a time to ensure that we are headed in the right direction and doing so as well as can be expected. This can be extra important for writers, whose lives lack many of the external carrots and sticks that serve to keep others on track. We can’t expect that even our best work will necessarily be published; we’d better not await a phone from an editor who just happens to be wondering what we’re writing these days. No, a writer is in charge of his or her own motivation and accomplishment, and just in time for New Year’s resolutions comes along a new book by Oregon poet Sage Cohen called The Productive Writer.
I’ve used Sage’s poetry how-to, Writing the Life Poetic, in my workshops before, as I like how the book beguiles those who wouldn’t necessarily label themselves ‘poets’ into experimenting with a genre that’s new to them.
In the same way, The Productive Writer won me over even though I’m not the type of person to gravitate toward books that include time management charts, lists and ‘questions to ask yourself.’ Before I’d even finished the first chapter, though, I was mentally developing a new system to collect inspiration and ideas. The second chapter went on to expand my understanding of what a ‘platform’ means to a writer, and why you should consciously develop one regardless of the kind of writing you do.
Further chapters don’t just help you achieve success in terms of page count or publication; they help you build a writing life, with all that entails: finding community, sharing your work, keeping your momentum going, and honing the practicalities of your work, from filing systems to submission tracking.
Sage is an amazingly prolific person herself, juggling life as a poet, teacher, author, business writer and mother while maintaining her various websites and other self-marketing pursuits. I’m hoping her book will help me emulate even a portion of her accomplishments – so, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to finish drawing my writing goal chart.
Happy New Year to all, and may you make all your dreams come true!Filed under From Peggy, Inspiration, On Books, Organizing our Writing Lives, Poetry, The Writer's Path, Writing as Career | Comments (3)
You know those writing books you buy, all excited, and then you read the introduction, all excited, and Chapter One, all excited, and then you somehow put it down and never pick it up again … let alone try any of the suggested exercises or writing prompts? I have shelves worth of those.
But at the moment I’m in the middle of powering through Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers, and devouring it like a fast-paced novel.
Most of us don’t need a magic writing prompt to put the wind in our sails; we need to believe in the value of writing and of writers and even, sometimes, to feel that there are people out there who understand us and our somewhat illogical willingness to forego cash flow, sleep and leisure to wrestle words out of our head and onto a page that perhaps no one will ever read.
Thanks to her long career in New York publishing, Betsy Lerner ‘gets’ us, and describes writers back to ourselves in a way that is both reassuring and inspirational.
She also weaves in quotes from other literary sorts, such as this oh-so-true one from Martin Amis:
“(Writers) develop an extra sense that partly excludes you from experience. When writers experience things, they’re not really experiencing them anything like 100 percent. They’re always holding back and wondering what the significance is, or wondering how they’d do it on the page.”
Ring a bell with any of you?
For more self-revelatory tidbits, check out Lerner’s book, published this year by Riverside Books in a newly updated edition.Filed under From Peggy, Inspiration, On Books, The Publishing Industry, The Writer's Path, Writing as Career | Comments Off
So, yes, it’s been a while and yes, Peggy’s been doing a much better job of holding down the fort / holding up her end of responsibilities than I have. Thank you Peggy!
In a recent post, Peggy referred to our writing goals post from the fall of 2009. Looking back I see I was trying to get my head around what I would be doing with my youngest in school all day.
Well, I have the answer. All the same stuff but much, much more of it! I guess I thought I’d somehow still be doing the same amount of everything else and would fill the rest of my time with writing for love. I pictured myself in a fiction frenzy; being so productive I wouldn’t know what to do with all the work I was churning out.
You know how they say nature abhors a vacuum? Well yes, apparently so, because something (even if not nature) has been keeping me pretty busy. Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful to be busy. I think it’s important to be busy. And earning the odd dollar is also a very, very good thing.
However, I’ve decided now that I’ve hit November, it’s time. I have to set patterns I intend to follow. So, I have officially implemented Fiction Fridays. Friday is a day when I write what I love, when I work towards my goals, when I work for me!
Except of course if my children’s school is hosting a MuchMusic Video Dance-a-thon and they need volunteers…
So, yes, that’ll be me, tomorrow morning, dancing to “Who Let the Dogs Out” with a gaggle of primary students.
Oh well, there’s still the afternoon!Filed under From Tudor, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives, The Writer's Path, Writing as Career | Comments (2)